A well-written cover letter can be critical in landing an interview. A cover letter is often your first “conversation” with a potential employer, and has three main functions: (1) it explains what you are applying for (or inquiring about) and why; (2) it gives you a chance to highlight and expand on your most relevant skills, experience, and special achievements; and (3) it gives the employer a chance to get to know YOU, through the voice and values you express. It often helps to put yourself in the employer’s position as you are drafting your letter: think about what they need to know about you, and why?

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is typically a single page, and is usually submitted along with other materials (e.g., resume, transcript, writing sample). It generally consists of an introductory paragraph explaining why you are writing, a middle paragraph that highlights your unique strengths as they relate to the employer’s needs, and a concluding paragraph stating your planned course of action.

Cover letters follow formal business-letter format (see examples below) and should be individualized for each employer. It is absolutely critical that your cover letter be 100% error-free.

Sections of a Cover Letter

Addressee's Info & Salutation

Whenever possible, address the letter to an individual and include their job title. Check the job description, employer's web site, or call the firm for a name if necessary. If you absolutely cannot come up with a contact name, it is better to address the reader by a title (e.g., "Dear Director of College Relations” or “Dear Human Resource Coordinator” rather than "Dear Sir/Madam:"

First Paragraph

  • Explain why you are writing the letter (be clear about the position or type of position you are seeking).
  • Attract the employer’s interest by briefly touching on your specific knowledge of the organization and/or position.
  • Is this an inquiry or are you applying for a job? How did you find out about the position or the organization? If someone referred you, you may mention their name here.

Middle Paragraph(s)

  • Your middle paragraph(s) should communicate precisely what you have to offer the employer. Why do you want to work for this organization? How has your background prepared you for this position?
  • Select your most relevant details and skills from past experiences that relate to the position/organization at hand. Show the employer how your background matches the requirements of the job.
  • Avoid vague statements; back up claims with specific examples. Refer to your résumé.

Closing Paragraph

  • Restate your interest and willingness to meet the employer, and/or mention that you will follow up with a phone call if appropriate.
  • Thank the employer for their time and consideration of your application/inquiry.

Complimentary Closing & Signature

  • End the letter with “Sincerely,” or "Regards"
  • Type your name after your closing. Include a signature in black ink if you are mailing or faxing your cover letter.

Proofread

Double check your grammar, spelling and style and have someone proofread your work. When proofreading your own writing it is easy to overlook mistakes.


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